Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Sting of Betrayal

Scripture Texts: Matthew 26:69-75; Matthew 27:1-10; Psalm 92

Betrayal is one of those expereiences that carries a painful sting to it. Not just for the person being betrayed, also for the person who has engaged in betrayal and comes to realize the fullness of what they have done. For Peter it was remembering the words of Jesus as the rooster crows. For Judas it was found more in a realization that he had handed over the Savior of the world to be executed.

The accounts of Peter and Judas are only two of the many people who betrayed Jesus in the last hours of his life and the hours directly after his death. Throughout history people continue to betray Jesus, in fact if we get honest with ourselves, we betray Jesus. For the most part it is not in major and blatant ways. We betray Jesus through our actions, thoughts and unfulfilled intentions.

In the midst of our betrayal Jesus is constant in faith, love, and grace for us. That is where the sting of betrayal comes to us. We know that we have not been faithful to Christ, yet Christ continues to be faithful to us. We have transgressed while Jesus has loved.

On the list of things that can disrupt a marriage in major ways, betrayal in near the top of the list. Most do not have the ability of Jesus to continue in faithful trust once betrayal has entered a relationship. The question will always remain as to whether betrayal will happen again. Here we find the sting of betrayal for both the betrayed and the betrayer.

Once betrayed trust is a constant struggle, and therefore cultivating a full and healthy marriage is a constant struggle. Likewise, the person committing the betrayal comes to know the pain they have caused, along with the ongoing consequences of betray for their marriage.

Whether it is in our relationship with Jesus, or with our spouse, betrayal is a character issue. Unhealthy pride is the root of betrayal. So one of the best ways to keep away from betrayal is to keep ourselves grounded with an accurate picture of who we are. When we overestimate our worth, we fool ourselves into thinking our betrayal is either justified or we will never be caught. On the other side, when we underestimate our worth, we quickly use betrayal as a mode of preservation. Either way, the two most important relationships in our lives will experience great pain.

Making every effort to keep betrayal out of our relationships is of high importance. Once betrayal enters the relationship the impact almost never leaves.

Monday, October 19, 2015

To Be a Servant

Scripture Text: Matthew 23

For some being a servant to others comes naturally. For a vast majority of people being a servant to others requires choice and intention. Some of this has to do with humans being selfish when left to our own devices. There is a great tendency toward wanting to make sure things work out best for us, rather than best for someone else.

Jesus warns his followers to not give into this tendency, like the religious leaders of the day. According to the teaching of Jesus what matters most is not how important you appear to other people, it is how willing you are to be a servant to another person.

This is not a question of our actions as much as it is a question of our heart. More specifically, whether our heart is tied more to God than to ourselves. The religious leaders, as Jesus points out regularly, were more interested in the form of God but not a relationship with God. They wanted to look the part and appear to be close to God, while in reality they were far from God. This was seen best in how they treat other people.

Cultivating a healthy marriage means being on a relentless pursuit to serve our spouse more than we are served by our spouse. The foundation of being a servant to our spouse is found in our relationship with God. Keeping God first allows us to set an order to our relationships that produces a marriage of servanthood. Setting the priority order of our relationships helps us to prioritize our servanthood. First we serve God, second we serve our spouse, third our children, next our extended family.

This order has enabled us to keep our marriage focused on the things that matter most. It has helped us to approach each other with the heart of a servant rather than seeking to be served. When we are struggling to be a servant to each other it is because we have gotten the priorities messed up.  In fact when we get the first priority wrong, all the others fall apart as well. The most common reason for the misguided priority is self-importance.These are the times when we need to spend the time making sure that God is first in our lives.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Never Too Late

Scripture Text: Matthew 20:1-19

Looking back on our lives it might be easy to see all the times we have not gotten things quite right. Some might even start to think it is too late to get back on track. It is clear from the parable Jesus tells that it is never too late to experience the love and grace that God has offered to us in Jesus. Sure there might be some who grumble about who gets grace when but that is not how God approaches grace.

Regardless of where life has taken us. Regardless of the path we have walked. Whether we grabbed a hold of God's grace early, in the middle, later, or possibly are still considering, it is never too late. We can start now, this very moment to live in the grace shower God has offered to us in Jesus Christ.

To experience the fullness of this grace we first must realize our need for grace. Each of us must own up to our past failings and misguided steps on the path. Next we seek the forgiveness offered through Christ on the cross where we were reconciled to God. Then we begin the journey of living and learning the life of grace. It is never to late to change the path you are on, and today is a great day to walk the path of God's grace.

For some in their marriage it might feel like it is too late. That there have been too many harsh words, and too many harsh actions to repair and rebuild. The message of Jesus in the parable is still true, it is never too late. Reconciliation is always a possibility, if we are willing to pursue it. Like the journey of experiencing God's grace we start with owning our past failings and misguided steps. We own the harsh words and actions that have originated with us. Next we seek forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed. Then we begin the journey of cultivating a marriage that is healthy and full.

It is never too late to embrace the grace of God at work in our lives and world. It is also never too late to cultivate a marriage that is beyond our wildest imagination. As long as there is still light in the day, God, the owner of this vineyard, is searching and seeking those who would enter the vineyard. Regardless of when we start in the vineyard we all receive the same amount of grace, the full amount God has to give.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hearts Joined Together

Scripture Texts: Matthew 19; Proverbs 17

Marriage being a hot button topic is not something new to our current age. As we can see from the Gospel of Matthew, even since the days of Moses has there been a struggle with understanding marriage. Jesus offers what seems to be a clear teaching on the subject, the couple will leave their families to be joined together to create a new family. Because it is God who has put this new family together, no one should try to take it apart.

Jesus does offer one exception to this, sexual immorality. In all other situations, the intention of God is that the couple would remain together. Before moving on too quickly we have to at least acknowledge the challenge of the term sexual immorality. There are few terms in all of scripture as loaded as this term, especially as it applies to our current day. We find no shortage of people willing to generate lists of what constitutes sexual immorality, and usually the list is focused on behavior. While our actions matter, it seems the point of origin for sexual immorality is our heart.

When we allow our heart to be joined to something other than our spouse, this is sexual immorality. This means sexual immorality shows up not only in the actions we take, it also shows up in the thoughts we carry, the images we allow into our lives, the emotions we can give away. Rarely does the physical act of sex with someone who is not your spouse start out as a quest for a sexual encounter. It starts when we start allowing our hearts to be joined to something that is not God, and is not our spouse. We give away our heart.

Obviously there are many situations and interactions we need to avoid to keep from giving our hearts away. Possibly more important than what we need to keep away from are the things we need to be about so that our heart is only given to God and to our spouse. The most important things we can do is to daily offer our heart, our whole heart, to the one to whom we are joined. This is done through conversation, mundane and important. Your spouse should not find out about what is happening in your life or heart as secondhand information.

It is not clear what Jesus meant by sexual immorality. If we are honest about it, no greater clarity comes from the other Scripture writers. Still, Jesus and others are clear we are to avoid it as it will derail the relationships of our life. It will cause us to give our heart to someone or something that is not appropriate or deserving of our heart. For those that are married, it is the express lane to putting asunder what God has joined together.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Glasses We Wear

Scripture Text: Matthew 17

Jesus viewed the world around him through a different lens than everyone else. This makes sense due to the fact that Jesus was fully human and fully God. Still, it is profound the number of times Jesus faces this tension between living in a culture without being co-opted by the culture. The earliest followers of Jesus seemed to struggle with this as much as we do today even with being eyewitnesses.

Peter, James and John try to process the moment we now call the transfiguration through their lens and experience of the culture by which they were surrounded. Their response to the amazing moment was one hopelessly based on a worldly lens rather than a Kingdom of God lens. Who could blame them they were still developing their Kingdom lens.

When we become followers of Jesus we do not simply take on a new belief system complete with a list of things we do and a list of things we do not do. We take on a new way of being, a new way of viewing the world. We put on a new lens by which we see everything around us, and the lens is often in opposition to the world around is.

We both wear glasses, and without them we do not see the world around us quite right. Every couple of years we go to the doctor to get our eyes checked and make sure our lenses help us to see as clearly as possible. When we get a new prescription it takes some time to get use to seeing the world through the new lenses. The same is true with our new Kingdom of God lenses, it takes time and practice before we can see clearly as the Creator sees. Some would argue it takes a lifetime.

When we get married we add a new lens to the way we view the world. No longer are we viewing the world as one person, rather the two have become one. The days of making decisions that only impact one person are gone. Not to mention the things, people and places that were once important to us change in their importance. We begin to view the world in different ways.

As followers of Jesus who are also married we have both lenses before us, and both change the way we view the world. This changed view of the world should result in us living different with our marriage and our day-to-day life. Our marriage should seem unusual to the world around us as we have chosen to live with the Kingdom of God view as our primary view.

It is okay if the world around us does not understand or even like the way we live, it is not for their approval that we strive. What matters most is that we view the world as God views the world. Further that we would live in our marriage in such a way that through us people might catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. That there would be moments when we can be the lens by which others can see God's Kingdom at work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Small Things Create a Big Impact

Scripture Texts: Matthew 15:29-39; Matthew 16:1-12

There are few aromas as wonderful as fresh baked bread. The simple concoction of flour, water and yeast yield an unmistakable aroma. Jesus reminds the disciples and us the reader, that only a small amount of yeast is needed to cause dough to rise many times its size. There is great power in small things.

From this lesson we can understand of paying attention to the small things in life as they can have great impact. It is not all the small things we need to pay attention to. Our attention needs to be give to the small things that have the greatest impact. All too often we are very focused on the small things, only it is the wrong small things.

Time and energy are given to small and inconsequential things at the expense of small, very important things. Rather than focus on honoring God with the small day-to-day acts of devotion and obedience, we can get stuck on small things like someone not liking our clothing or hairstyle. Regardless of the small thing we focus on, the things we commit our focus to will grow in size and influence in our lives.

Marriage is driven by the small things. From the mundane, toilet paper roll installation, toothpaste squeezing, and other items, to the more significant like flowers, words of encouragement, and simple presence. Sure the major things of marriage matter, however it is in the small things that a healthy marriage is cultivated.

Getting the small things right will add so much more to the major things in a marriage. When we take time on a daily basis to be present, and supportive for our spouse in the mundane, this will bloom into presence and support that is even more significant in the times of trial. Likewise if we get stuck on the mundane and cause strife and division, this too will grow and impact the way we encounter the trials of life and marriage. Remember, that which we focus on grows, so let us make sure we are focused on the small things that will produce the impact that honors our spouse and delights our God.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Remember Your Role

Scripture Texts: Matthew 15:10-28; Psalm 83

Have you ever asked God to do something to another person because of how they treated you? While it is not a part of our humanity that we like to broadcast to others, chances are most people have wanted God to get someone else. The Psalmist is writing for this very purpose, for God to get the enemy.

Interestingly it is the writer who is speaking in the Psalm not God. There are other parts of the Bible we find God speaking through the prophets and other teachers. Here we have a human asking God to take action in a particular way. God does not answer the request, at least we do not have the answer.

This passage shows us how easy it is for us as humans to confuse our role with the role of God. It is easy for us to think God does not see what is happening and therefore we must help out by notifying God. Further, once we offer the notification we are quick to offer the plan by which God should act. In this we find revealed the primary struggle of humanity, we get confused and think we are God.

There is only one God, and one Father who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6). Part of God being God is that it is God that knows all things and how best to be at work in all situations. If we are not careful we can even tell God how to best be at work in our spouse. As if God is not the one who created our spouse and knows our spouse's inmost being.

In marriage we must learn to help each other listen for what God has in mind, and trust that God knows better than we do. We are not in the business of telling God how to be God, and we are not in the business of telling our spouse how to live their life. What we are about is listening together and then being the chief encourager in the life of our spouse.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Heart and Words

Scripture Texts: Matthew 14:22-36; Matthew 15:1-9

It is real easy to give something lip service without much connection behind it. That is what Jesus is accusing the religious leaders of his day of doing in regard to God. They had their big elaborate worship services complete with fancy robes, fancy songs and high sounding rites and rituals. All the while their hearts were more connected with their rituals and rites than with God.

Nearly every night we have taken time to dig through the scriptures to see what God might have for us. As we do this it would be easy to fall into our act of devotion becoming empty and void of connection to God. Daily reading the scripture is not intended to give a list to check off, rather we are to meet the living God.

Any of our beloved and important practices can fall prey to losing its connection to the heart of God. Times of worship, mission, service, prayer and study can all be done while missing the very reason we do all these things. Before we are too hard on the religious leaders we must come to terms with the fact that it could just as easily be us, and probably has been.

It is not only our relationship with God that we run the danger of having a disconnect between our words, actions, and our heart. In our marriage we might say all the right things and do all the right things while leaving our heart out of the equation. Utter the words I love you to our spouse without the connection of our heart behind it ring empty.

When our words do not match our heart falsehood is allowed to enter into our marriage. At the outset this might not seem too bad, in fact we might justify it by thinking we need to say it until it is true, even when we do not feel it. Reality is rather than say something to our spouse that is not connected with our heart, we need to search our own heart to see where the disconnect is.

Empty words left uninspected grow separation in a marriage. Once the separation begins it becomes easier to offer empty words. Then the vicious spiral has begun and the ending is usually not real pretty. Over time it becomes impossible to trust the words shared between spouses and communication becomes superficial and insignificant.

The best way to prevent this disconnect is to ruthlessly pursue a life-giving connection with our spouse. Tending the condition of our hearts, and relationship is top priority if we are to cultivate a healthy marriage. This requires time together, both quantity and quality. Time to talk, laugh, cry and live life deeply together. All of the time invested will allow us to offer our heart and our words to our spouse creating a marriage that is full and healthy.